Volvo to develop prototype lightweight composite sleepers

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Volvo Trucks North America announced June 17 that it will develop lightweight prototype sleepers made with advanced composite material technology as part of a U.S. Army program to reduce the weight and improve fuel economy of trucks.

The project, part of the Army’s Military and Commercial Truck Weight Reduction Program, calls for Volvo and program partner TPI Composites Inc., based in Scottsdale, Ariz., to design, build and test prototype truck sleepers. Funding for the program was secured by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI). The project was announced during a news conference at TPI’s facility in Warren, R.I.

Because of their generally lighter weight, the use of composite components can improve truck fuel economy and thus reduce CO2 emissions. TPI says its advanced processes yield components that are even lighter and stronger than composite components formed using traditional methods; in addition, composite materials resist corrosion, insulate better and may provide a quieter sleeping environment for resting drivers.

“This project allows Volvo to explore the benefits of advanced materials and manufacturing techniques for military vehicles and commercial freight operations,” says Scott Kress, Volvo senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Volvo is an innovative and technologically adept company with global resources, which makes us a great partner for this project. We also have a history of working with federal agencies on cutting-edge technologies, such as our work with the U.S. Department of Energy on alternative drivelines and fuels, and vehicle aerodynamics.”

Three sleeper cabs will be produced as part of the project, with the first to be delivered in late 2009. The project is slated to run for 21 months, with Volvo and TPI sharing the $2.5 million funding. Volvo Technology Corp., an advanced research and development unit of the Volvo Group, will coordinate the research for Volvo.

The sleeper cabs will consist of three pieces: a one-piece composite sleeper, a composite roof and Volvo’s highly engineered steel cab, modified to attach to the composite sleeper. Testing will include the “cab shaker,” in which a full-size cab and sleeper, complete with all interior fittings, is attached to a large hydraulic device; the cab shaker subjects the cab and sleeper to prolonged violent shaking to test their durability and integrity. The shaker is a standard part of Volvo’s product development and testing.

One of the three cabs also will be subjected to the Swedish Impact Test, which Volvo describes as the most severe truck cab crash test in the world. This procedure has three components, and tests the ability of the cab and sleeper to protect occupants in the event of a rollover and other severe accidents. Volvo says every one of its trucks around the world must pass this test.